Q: What is the first thing I must do when I want to remodel my home?

A: Hire a reputable contractor. This will take some research, but it is hands-down the most important step in the process of remodeling. Do your homework on the reputations, experience and quality of a contractor's work. You can do this on the internet or simply by talking to people who have had their homes remodeled in the recent past. Don't just look for the lowest bid or the nicest people. Look for quality craftsmanship.

Q: Can a contractor give me an accurate bid without presenting me with detailed plans?

A: Probably not. You want to know what the bid includes before you accept or reject it and that's hard to do without seeing plans.

Q: Do I need a permit to remodel?

A: Yes, in most cases. Even if you only make a small electrical or plumbing-related change, you are likely to need a permit to do it. To find out for sure, call your city or county building inspection department.

Q: How can I find out if there are limitations to what I am legally able to add-on to my home?

A: A visit to your local building inspection department should provide some answers. Just sit down with them, outline your intentions and discuss it with them. If any limitations or requirements exist, they will outline them for you.

Q: What does it cost per square foot to add a room addition?

A: Every remodel is different. Variables such as access to the addition, structural tie-in of foundations and rooflines and the kinds of materials necessary to complete the addition will all have a bearing in the cost. If you consult with a reputable contractor, they can usually alert you to some of the red flags and issues and perhaps even provide you with a preliminary budget review.

Q: How and when should I pay my contractor?

A: Only pay for work completed. This is normally provided by a "draw system" after each phase of work. Always beware a contractor who requests a large draw before work has begun. Many states regulate how much a contractor can request as a contract signing draw (similar to a down payment). For clarification, contact your state's Contractor's License Board.

Q: Can I remove any wall in my house to open it up?

A: No. You must first determine if the wall is a "structure bearing wall," which is essentially one of the walls that keeps your house from collapsing. Remove that and you've got a major problem on your hands. In some cases, the roof or second story is a bearing on top of certain walls, too. The best way to determine what is and is not a bearing wall is to consult with a licensed structural engineer. He or she can also advise you on what would be required to remove a wall, even if it is bearing.

Q: What is the best area of my house to remodel or add onto?

A: The two areas that seem to be most popular and provide the most value are the kitchen and the master suite. Other areas such as family rooms, extra bedrooms and bathrooms are also quite popular and add equity to a home. The most important thing to remember when adding on is that you want the addition to blend well with your existing home. A good, functional design and quality craftsmanship will also be important factors to consider.

Q: If I spend all of this money on a remodeling project, can I expect the value of my home to increase immediately?

A: No. In some cases, it takes a few years to recoup the costs of the remodel through equity. Immediate value is added to homes in only a very few cases. To clarify the immediate impact of a remodel or add-on, consult with an appraisal company. Remember, this is another good reason to demand quality craftsmanship and good design. Most people don't remodel just to sell their home immediately thereafter. They do it to enjoy the home over the long haul, knowing they will recover their investment in due time.

Q: Should I have a contract between the contractor and myself even on small jobs?

A: Yes. For your own protection and financial security, always require a contract that specifies the work to be done, the materials to be used and the time frame needed to complete the job. Most importantly, give your business to Licensed Contractors only.